Tories return to their Office for Civil Society proposal

It would replace the Office of the Third Sector and lead the 'big society' agenda, say Nick Hurd and Francis Maude

The Conservatives have reinstated their pledge to create an Office for Civil Society should they win the general election.

In a letter to be sent today to voluntary sector organisations, Tory shadow third sector minister Nick Hurd and shadow cabinet secretary Francis Maude say they intend to replace the existing Office of the Third Sector.

The Office for Civil Society would be based in the Cabinet Office and "act as a champion of the voluntary sector in the heart of government," they say. It would also take the lead in implementing the Conservatives' 'big society' agenda.

The promise to create an Office for Civil Society with wider powers and responsibilities than the Office of the Third Sector was made in the Conservatives' 2008 green paper Voluntary Action in the 21st Century.

But the policy was later played down by charities spokesman Hurd, who told Third Sector in June that it was no longer a priority and might be dropped. He said at the time that the OTS "was a young department and needed more time to bed in".

The letter says that Labour's good intentions on the third sector have been undermined by a lack of strategy, poor management and inconsistency: "More public money has gone into the sector, but with it a rising tide of bureaucracy that comes at a big cost.

"The lack of strategy means we have had a jumble of initiatives that neither hang together, nor are sustainable. Poor leadership means they have dithered over important things such as the creation of a social investment bank and reform of Gift Aid."

It says that in the light of extensive consultation after the publication of the 2008 green paper, the Conservatives have concluded that government policy toward the sector should be based on three fundamental issues: making it easier to run a charity, social enterprise or voluntary organisation; getting more resources into the sector, strengthening its independence and resilience; and making it easier for sector organisations to work with the state

It reiterates ideas set out by the Tories over the past few weeks such as establishing a ‘big society bank' and a National Citizen Service.

It says the party wants to see longer-term contracts with the sector "based on outcomes, not the micromanagement of the process".

It says: "We will encourage the participation of smaller organisations that can help us tackle the toughest social problems."

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